I guess I see a little what all the complaining is about. Love received such tepid reviews I was almost afraid to read for fear it would bring Toni Morrison down from her (all right, my) pedestal. I shouldn’t have worried. This is not Morrison at full power. It’s neither Song of Solomon nor Beloved, but eighty or ninety per cent of Tony Morrison is worth a hundred and twenty per cent of almost anyone else.
All over the world, traitors help progress. It’s like being exposed to tuberculosis. After it fills the cemetery, it strengthens whoever survives; helps them to know the difference between a strong mind and a healthy one; between the righteous and the right–which is, after all, progress. The problem for those left alive is what to do about revenge–how to escape the sweetness of its rot. So you can see why families make the best enemies.
Not many authors could live up to that. But Toni does. Love explores a history of a neighborhood, a country, a race, a family, several lives, all bound to one another’s selves and histories with an an intensity that is born of love and nourished by hatred. Heed (full name Heed the Night) and Christine are old ladies in a house inherited from a common patriarch. Which one of them is the true heir is ambiguous, but neither will let go either of the house or of the bitterness, either about their situation or toward one another.
Into the scene comes one of those characters–girls–that Morrison loves. Junior Viviane (“With and “e.” Are you loving the names?)–she won’t let anyone call her June–drops seemingly out of nowhere, in the scene she is, but not of it, outside any human or natural law, and born to sow turmoil wherever she lands.
Now, again, this is Morrison, so we know to expect the supernatural, or spiritual voices. And we get them. Truth? I’m not sure who one or two of them are. But the voices are haunting and truthful and guide us through the vortex of time and emotion back to the beginning of all this period that the book covers. Little by little, of course. We learn nothing all at once. it wouldn’t be good for us, like looking on the face of God.
When our two hundred page journey is done, and this portion of the story is played out as much as it’s going to be this time around, we’re left with that Morrison feeling that we’re walking out of a fantasy into some foreign place–call it daylight–where the edges are sharp, things are what they seem, and facts are solid as stone. During the journey, however, nothing has quite made sense and, yet, everything did. It was awful for a fifty-plus man to marry himself off to an eleven-year-old girl. But you understood it. It wasn’t right, but you understood it. No way out here in the sunlight it can be contemplated, let alone forgiven. You had to be there. Same with half the stuff Junior does. We’re glad to find a steadying influence like Sandler in the neighborhood, but too much of him would get in the way of the story, and it’s the story that matters as much as the living. And that may be the Morrison Nobel point. The story, the myth, the tale, is as important as the living of it, may even determine the living, and in turn the telling, of it. And like the line about not knowing the dancer from the dance, you in the end may not know the person from his story, or one from the other. Enchantment.